In many parts of the world, recent weeks have seen significant efforts to reboot society. Bars and restaurants are reopening and bringing back their staff. Cinemas are resuming showings. Unnecessary international travel is still considered a bad idea, but local governments are advocating for staycations that include visits to hotels, resort facilities, and tourist attractions.
There’s still a long way to go, though — and so much we don’t know about the future. Will there be a much-discussed second wave? When will a safe and reliable vaccine be ready for general use? What’s the most responsible way to proceed? It’s all so frustrating.
If we had access to crystal-ball technology, we could lay the groundwork for an optimal conclusion to this miserable pandemic. Even without the ability to look ahead with absolute precision, though, we can still make some reasoned predictions based on certain inevitabilities.
In this post, we’re going to do just that for coworking spaces in particular. The three predictions we look at here are far from guaranteed, but we can logically expect them to happen regardless of how the COVID-19 situation unfolds. That’s sufficient preamble. Let’s get to the predictions.
No matter how quickly and forcefully the business world resumes standard operation, it seems safe to contend that the traditional office setup is on the way out for any businesses that don’t inarguably need it. Some do, of course, and must carry on: manufacturing or shipping companies, for instance, will always need their own facilities. But most don’t.
So many business owners only have offices because they’re status symbols. Boasting your own office says something about your level of success, and puts you in a stronger position to negotiate deals with other people or organizations sharing the veneration of offices. In the fullness of time, the concept of a digital company taking up a half-used space will be a remnant of a bygone era: a testament to outdated excess and arrogance.
Now, some have already reached the conclusion that the replacement for most private offices will be no office space at all. Haven’t the demands of this pandemic shown that remote working is completely viable for the average company? Surely that’s the way to go: allowing everyone to work from any location they prefer and freeing up an incredible amount of space to be used for more important things like housing or public services.
The sales pitch is akin to that of the eCommerce industry (which has flourished during this time). If a seller doesn’t need a physical store, there’s little reason — aside from basic preference — to have one. Most people buy online, and an online store can be thrown together in minutes. Barring the occasional promotional pop-up shop, what is there to be gained from doing otherwise? And if all sellers go online, then stores will be markedlysafer for shoppers.
Well, that argument isn’t as compelling for regular businesses, and there are two major reasons. Firstly, businesses with teams of employees benefit significantly from having them interact in real-world ways: meeting, socializing, and collaborating in ways that can’t adequately be mimicked through internet communication. This also goes for communication between businesses: the establishment of community spirit can turn a coworking space into a home.
Secondly, client meetings and pitches are better handled in person where connections can’t drop out and body language can come into play. Consider that plenty of business leaders will stubbornly resist the move away from conventional offices well into the future. It may be rather irritating, but making a good first impression with such a leader may require meeting in person.
The answer is the middle ground provided by coworking spaces. No more dedicated spaces that go unused for significant periods of time, but space that’s there to be used whenever businesses need it for company discussions or client updates. For this reason, we can expect to see coworking spaces eventually become more common than traditional offices.
Even before anyone was thinking about the potential consequences of a pandemic, various customer-facing industries were investing in contactless operation. The average grocery store now accepts contactless payments. Many Airbnb hosts arrange things so they don’t need to meet their guests — and the adoption of blockchain technology for innovations like smart locks has clearly indicated where the hospitality industry is going.
Now that there are widespread concerns about the spread of infections (concerns that definitely won’t go away even in the unlikely event that COVID-19 can be practically eliminated), it seems safe to say that contactless operation will be a key element of coworking spaces in the future. And while it’s true that keeping people safe is tougher when there are several businesses sharing a space, we must acknowledge some key benefits of coworking spaces.
Most notable is the scope and scale of infrastructure investment. A coworking space supported by a wide variety of successful businesses can muster the resources to invest in smart locks, sanitary stations, mask stocks, and emergency-response procedures that can prompt quick action in the event that someone shows worrying symptoms. This is likely to be quicker, easier, and more effective than having each company arrange its own safety measures.
This can also make inspection markedly easier. Governmental requirements will surely change over time, and the health and safety responsibilities of business owners will become significantly more strict. Instead of needing to protect their private offices and find the time to have them certified safe by government inspectors, companies can turn to coworking spaces with superb safety records and verified adherence to all relevant regulations.
What’s more, even if COVID-19 had never existed, we could still expect a rising acceptance of contactless operation for the simple reason that people are becoming accustomed to it. It isn’t just safer to use contactless payment: it’s also faster and easier, so who wants to go back to the old way of doing things? Future coworking spaces will be technological marvels, optimized for convenience, safety, automation, and simple enjoyment.
Part of the core appeal of coworking spaces is that they offer generalized facilities that account for most business needs. Desks with ethernet cables, laptop docks, and plenty of power sockets so on-the-go professionals (regardless of their industries) can get things done. Meeting rooms with accessible screens and seating, viable for businesses of all kinds. Space for bikes and cars alike so you can commute in whichever fashion works better for you. Since each company will have marginally different needs, this makes all the sense in the world.
Despite this, though, we can realistically expect to see more and more niche coworking spaces rise up in the coming years. One such space might focus on artistic companies, prioritizing graphics tablets, even lighting, and backdrops that are well-suited to photography. Another might cater to podcasters, featuring high-quality recording equipment and soundproof areas. Imagine an office building converted to booths with desks and green-screen setups, allowing game streamers from platforms like Twitch to keep their home lives distinct from their work.
Read more about niche-specific coworing spaces:
There may well be enough demand to make these niche purposes permanent, but there doesn’t need to be provided the setups aren’t fixed. Given a little preparation time, a given coworking space could be converted from one niche purpose to another (ensuring that it wouldn’t end up losing money due to its set specialization) — particularly since this would mostly require swapping out some computer peripherals in many cases.
At the moment, the coworking space industry is still in its relative infancy, and this is reflected in the generic nature of its setups. As the industry matures (and adapts to the needs of a world that must combat an ever-looming viral threat), its companies will become emboldened to take bigger risks and try interesting things. Some of those things won’t work, but others will, and the central value proposition will become more compelling at a steady rate.
Within the next ten years, it might well become normal for the average coworking space to have a setlist of configurations from which prospective users can choose. Might some of these configurations ultimately become physically automated, with processes defined to swap space from one to the other? That remains to be seen — but it’s far from impossible.
To wrap things up, the future of coworking spaces looks to be the future of business in general (most of it, at least). In the years ahead, they’ll become more common than traditional offices, lead the market in operational safety and convenience, and develop targeted configuration packages that will bring in professionals from niche areas.
The article was written by Rodney Laws. He has more than a decade of experience providing marketing advice to online entrepreneurs and businesses. He’s set up and marketed his own businesses and consulted on crafting campaigns for established companies. See what Rodney can do to help you or your business by heading over to EcommercePlatforms.io and visiting @EcomPlatformsio for even more news and views on marketing as an ecommerce brand.